editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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When it comes to online staffing newspapers should play to win

December 24th, 2007 · 4 Comments

Although most newspaper companies appear set on a path that now includes significant emphasis on developing online products, just how they accomplish that varies from company to company. While some newspapers are seeking out partnerships, albeit even bad ones, others are going at it alone, building their staffs and charting their own courses.

All these companies have a long ways to go before they start to reap significant rewards, and along the way some of the decisions they make are drawing the ire of bloggers, colleagues and even employees. For example, Howard Owens recently wrote about the decision of MediaNews Group to outsource their comments management to topix.com.

“The last thing you should do is outsource community participation,” he wrote.

I agree with him (and said as much on his blog) and would argue that this is an example of a newspaper company wrestling with a difficult issue and ultimately making the bad choice.

To me, it seems that when it comes to online, there are many, many difficult issues for newspapers to wrestle with.

Recently, Pat Thornton wrote a post on his blog discussing how newspaper companies integrate their print and online staffs.

“And where are your new media people located? At many newspapers, if not most, they are off to the side somewhere — often out of sight, out of mind. Few newspapers integrate their Web producers, editors and developers into the newsroom. Many people tell me they don’t even know where their online staffers sit or their names,” he wrote.

While some editors might say “so what,” Pat maintains:

“Online members often feel left out and looked down on by the print staffers. This perception is never helped when the online staff is stuck by the marketing or business staff or cleaning staff or some random closet.”

I believe his observations are compelling and are a symptom of a more critical issue. Many newspapers still aren’t sure where an online staff fits in to their overall structure. Is an online editor the same as a print editor? Are online producers equal to print reporters? And what about online developers, can they be equated to, say, page designers? Who should the online staff report to? All of these are a build up to one big issue, and that is pay. Many newspaper companies are wrestling with the question of how much to pay their online staffs.

To me, this is a critical question, one that if newspaper companies are going to compete and be successful in the online arena, they need to get right.

Now if these were pure-play businesses, the answer would be easy, you want your online products to be the best and your business to be a success, so you hire the best you can afford and, if necessary, you look for other places to save. But newspapers aren’t pure-play businesses when it comes to online, so this issue is a harder one for them to wrestle with. I would contend though, that they need to apply the same rules.

We all know that, increasingly, online is where the money is, but it will take talent to earn it. I would urge newspapers to make sure they’re paying their online employees appropriately; if new positions open, hire the best you can afford. This is one place where you don’t want to go with the lowest bidder and more importantly, this one place where wrestling with a difficult issue and ultimately making the bad choice won’t do.

Tags: Advertising · Industry · Innovation · Online

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